National Therapy Animal Day FAQs

Therapy animals can provide physical, psychological, and emotional benefits to those they interact with, typically in facility settings such as healthcare, assisted living, and schools. While most frequently dogs, therapy animals can include other domesticated species such as cats, horses, and rabbits, to name a few. These pets are evaluated on their ability to safely interact with a wide range of populations, and their handlers are trained in best practices to ensure effective interactions that support animal welfare. Therapy animal handlers may volunteer their time to visit with their animals in the community, or they may be practitioners who utilize the power of the human-animal bond in professional settings. 

No. While there are many types of animals that can enhance our lives, therapy animals, service animals and emotional support animals are not the same.  

Service animals, also known as assistance animals, are defined as dogs and in some cases miniature horses that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples include guide dogs for people who are blind, hearing dogs for people who are deaf, or dogs trained to provide mobility assistance or communicate medical alerts.  

An emotional support animal, sometimes also referred to as a comfort animal, is a pet that provides therapeutic support to a person with a mental illness. To be designated as an emotional support animal, the pet must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional for a person with a mental illness. Individuals with emotional support animals do not have the same rights to public access as individuals with a service dog. 

A therapy animal is a pet that their owner has chosen to share with the community to enhance human health and well-being. Therapy animals have no special rights of access, except in those facilities where they are welcomed. They may not enter businesses with “no pets” policies or accompany their handler in the cabin of an airplane regardless of their therapy animal designation. 

Therapy animal teams have a responsibility to safely interact with the public while maintaining animal welfare, so it’s important to choose a therapy animal organization that is committed to the Standards of Practice in Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI), such as Pet Partners.  

The steps for registration typically include handler education on best practices, verification that the animal is healthy enough to participate in AAI, an in-person evaluation of the team for skills in interacting with the public, and a comprehensive background check. Upon registration, teams should have access to insurance coverage which nearly all facilities will require, and teams should anticipate having to renew by re-evaluating at least every three years. 

Therapy animals have been invited into almost any setting you can imagine! From bringing smiles to kids fighting cancer in the hospital, to visiting seniors to combat loneliness, to helping reluctant readers build confidence at the local library, to giving back to veterans who have sacrificed so much, time spent with therapy animals can have benefits for nearly anyone. 

Therapy animal visits can take many forms. It may be a casual social visit where people pet the therapy animal and make conversation with the handler. It may be more structured, such as a visit to a school classroom or a reading program at a library. Some volunteer therapy animal teams who have received additional training even support their community in the aftermath of a traumatic event, such as a school shooting or a natural disaster. Wherever they are, therapy animal teams provide support, empathy, and kindness, improving the health and well-being of those they interact with. 

Absolutely. Greater access to therapy animal visits ensures that everyone can benefit from the connection with animals. By becoming a therapy animal team with your pet, you have the opportunity to positively influence your community’s well-being. If you don’t have a pet suitable for therapy animal work, you can also help raise awareness about therapy animals by promoting National Therapy Animal Day and inviting those who may have suitable pet to learn more about becoming a team.

Well-qualified therapy animal teams are safe in a wide variety of environments and among vulnerable populations. The Standards of Practice in Animal-Assisted Interventions clearly articulates the minimum standards for participating handlers, animals, and therapy animal programs which promotes health, welfare, and safety of all involved. 

If your pet loves people, lots of different people (not just you!), that’s the first indicator they may be a therapy animal candidate. In addition, they need to meet some general requirements such as having basic obedience skills, being comfortable wearing a collar and harness or leash, and demonstrating a temperament that welcomes interactions with strangers.  

While most therapy animals are dogs, many domesticated species can participate in this work. Pet Partners registers nine different species including dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, birds, miniature pigs, and llamas and alpacas. 

National Therapy Animal Day occurs every April 30th and is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the amazing work of therapy animals and their handlers in communities across the country and around the world. In addition to honoring the therapy animals and their dedicated handlers who volunteer their time and compassion to brighten the lives of those in their community by sharing their special pet, this is also an opportunity to consider if becoming a therapy animal team is right for you.  

There is a great need for well-qualified volunteer therapy animal teams. If you’re passionate about spending time with your pet while giving back to your community, consider becoming a therapy animal team! 

Yes! The body of research about the human-animal bond and benefits of therapy animals continues to grow. You can download the white paper Empirical Support for Therapy Animal Interventions for free here.

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